Congress, Army must give the 65th its due

Congress should issue an overdue honor to the only Hispanic segregated military unit in U.S. history.

Last week, Puerto Rico’s Resident Commissioner Pedro Pierluisi and Congressman Bill Posey (R-FL) introduced a bill to award the 65th Infantry with a Congressional Gold Medal. This award is the highest civilian recognition in the nation.

Congress created Puerto Rico’s 65th Infantry Regiment in 1899 — a year after the United States took over the island. The soldiers of the 65th went to the frontlines during the Korean War, with many losing their lives, and earned the highest praises from General Douglas MacArthur. More than 61,000 Puerto Ricans served in this war, the bulk of them with the 65th.

We applaud this legislative initiative and Congress should follow through right away, especially considering that the remaining 65th veterans are elderly.??

But there are two other related matters that Congress and the U.S. Army must also resolve.

In 2002, Congress mandated a review of Hispanic and Jewish veterans who served during and after World War II. The review was supposed to determine whether those who had received a Distinguished Service Cross deserved instead a Medal of Honor, the highest military decoration. Yet, to date, no announcement has been made about upgrades for Hispanics.

These types of reviews for under—or no—decoration have been executed for African Americans and Asian Pacific Americans.

For example, out of the 432 Medals of Honor presented for World War II, none had been awarded to any of the more than one million blacks that served until a study identified seven candidates for the highest military honor.

The 65th is also owed an apology by the Army, which court-martialed a large number of its soldiers during the Korean War and then went on to discredit the unit. That Puerto Ricans were judged harshly and punished swiftly in comparison to their white counterparts for the same incidents is documented but has yet to be fully acknowledged.

What is overwhelmingly evident, by historical record and as in the documentary “The Borinqueneers,” is the great sacrifice of Puerto Rican soldiers.

The motto of the 65th is “Honor and Fidelity.” We expect the nation to reflect the same spirit — for all of its soldiers and veterans.